KENNEWICK -- Sunny Boy has had a tough life, but he's also had a lot of help along the way.
The approximately 3-year-old husky was badly abused as a young dog, but then was saved by a doting new owner.
Now he needs help from Mid-Columbia hunters to stay alive.
Last year owner Barb Winckler of Kennewick found out the lovable dog suffers from severe inflammatory bowel disease. He can't digest regular dog food, nor can he eat the meats most humans eat -- beef, pork, chicken.
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Instead, Sunny Boy dines three times a day on a mixture of mashed sweet potatoes and shredded and diced venison and elk.
"Diet plays a huge role in his continued good health," said Dr. Bret Smith of the Animal Clinic of Walla Walla. "We don't know exactly what he's reacting to in the dog food, but even in the highest quality dog foods there's a component in there that he does not respond well to."
Smith treated Sunny Boy for months, consulting with a canine internist at Washington State University's veterinary hospital, but nothing worked -- not anti-inflamatory medicines, not expensive prescription dog food.
Veterinarians concluded home-cooked food is Sunny Boy's only option.
"As long as he stays on his diet this is something we cannot cure but can control with diet and anti-inflammatory drugs," said Smith.
Finding sweet potatoes is easy. Winckler and her husband, Lee, buy them by the 40-pound box.
But venison isn't so easy.
That's why Winckler was going around town last week tacking up posters asking for meaty donations. At this time of year as hunters are gearing up for hunting season, they often clean their freezers of older and freezer-burned venison and elk.
"I have to get it now. There's only a short window and I need to have enough to last him an entire year," said Winckler, who has a freezer just for Sunny Boy.
Winckler can't pay for the game meat, that's against the law. And meat from farm-raised deer and elk is too expensive.
But she isn't particular, and will take any cut of meat, even scraps and bones left from butchering and freezer burned meat. She even uses deer and elk liver to make dried treats for Sunny Boy, who eats three times a day -- 11/4 cups of slow-cooked meat and 3 cups of sweet potato per feeding.
Sunny Boy's pampering owner estimates she's peeled 1,500 to 1,600 pounds of sweet potatoes since Sunny Boy went on his special diet last December.
But she's been a sucker for the handsome husky since she first laid eyes on him at Nightsong Rescue run by Susan Price near Dayton, which takes in primarily Siberian huskys.
Sunny Boy was found by Wapato police Officer Randy Sperle in the fall of 2008 living in filth, with no food or water. The officer reported finding him "on a 3-foot chain that was wrapped around his neck and imbedded in his flesh."
The chain had to be surgically removed.
Winckler and her husband, Lee, met Sunny Boy in October 2008 shortly after one of their Siberian huskies died. They didn't take him home that day, but a week later they returned and picked him up.
"I couldn't forget those blue, blue eyes," she said.
Sunny Boy didn't get sick right away, but in the summer of 2009 he began losing weight. At one point he was down to 39 pounds -- he's 58 pounds now, thanks to his special diet.
Smith believes the dog would have developed the digestive problem anyway, but he said the earlier abuse couldn't have helped. Fortunately, Winckler takes care of him.
"Sonny Boy is a very, very lucky dog to have found a home with the Wincklers," Smith said. "She has gone above and beyond what many would do."
But Winckler doesn't mind. "When you think how abused he was and see how trusting and loving he is now, he's worth every minute I spend cooking his meals," she said.
If you can donate some elk or deer meat now, or later in the year as the Wincklers have limited freezer space, contact them via e-mail at email@example.com. Or call 783-8785.